Archive for March, 2020


COVID-19 – How realistic is Plague Inc?

March 19, 2020

Plague Inc is a simulation where the player evolves a plague, with the goal being to eradicate (or enslave, depending on the plague type) the entire world. The game has recently been removed from Steam (China only) and other online game stores in China, although there is no formal evidence this is linked to coronavirus / COVID-19.

Now, while it’s pretty easy to topically accuse Plague Inc of disrespecting those affected by COVID-19, I’m more interested in whether or not the game’s simulation of an actual pandemic outbreak comes close to what is happening right now, on this wonderful planet we call home.

There’s a very simple way to test this, which is what I’ve done: create a ‘virus type’ plague, give it coughing and pneumonia symptoms (adding pulmonary oedema later on), a few abilities that make it hard to cure, give it a starting location of China, let it loose and see what happens.

Some info about how I played this: I set the game difficulty to ‘mega brutal’ which means the world has the best chance of beating the plague. If the virus mutated, I removed the mutations to keep it as close to the current version of COVID-19, at least as far as we can figure out what that is, based on available information.

Here’s the story of how it played out, with some screen images of the way the simulated COVID-19 affected the world.

If the plague has no (serious) symptoms, it tends to go unnoticed for a long time, but in mega-brutal difficulty it can be spotted in a random health check.

Once people start to die, the plague gets mentioned in the news, a cure will start to be developed, and countries might start closing airports and locking land borders.

While the country where the plague started works on a  cure, the virus continues to spread to other countries.

China shuts its airports, but the plague has already got out and is infecting other countries quite quickly, albeit with only coughing and a bit of air transmission to pass it around.

As the death toll rises, the WHO puts the plague on a watchlist. Other countries are taking various actions but the cure is barely starting to be developed.

Less than a year in, and more than half the world has been infected. The cure is still more than a year away.

Random news events occur in the game. In this session, the USA President is taken ill. Note the news stream at the top of the screen casually mentions the UK distributing face masks.

This one is pretty realistic, with the 2022 world cup being cancelled. Looking at the state of that map, with almost the whole world infected (even Greenland – yay!) this is hardly surprising.

The cure is more than half completed, but the virus is still doing a good job of infecting almost the entire planet. Note – I didn’t allow the virus to mutate any symptoms, so this is still just coughing, pneumonia and pulmonary oedema causing these effects.

No healthy countries left. Some infected countries still have healthy people, and there are no destroyed countries due to the relatively low lethality of the virus.

Although, even with a fairly mild virus, the death toll is still high.

And…that’s it, they developed a cure and started to deploy it around the world. Congratulations, but look at the death count.

That graph shows the way the infectivity tended to rocket, while the severity and lethality were fairly flat. The highest peaks were where Pulmonary Oedema was introduced. I took it away the first time it appeared, although it seemed like it did fit in with the way COVID-19 is affecting people so I put it back later on.

This is interesting, at least by ‘graph’ standards. The death count, as a percentage, is very low – you can see it at the bottom, most noticeable at the lower right of the graph. The percentage is pretty close to the overall percentage of deaths per cases being seen with the actual COVID-19 virus.

And there you have it, all over in 665 days. I really, seriously, hope it doesn’t take that long to deal with COVID-19 and get everything back to whatever ‘normal’ used to feel like.


This opinion article was written on a dasKeyboard Model S Professional.
I also write novels – JW Tapper website








Stoneshard review – PC

March 14, 2020


10 word description (from official site): Challenging turn-based RPG where your tactical skills will be tested.

Every action is turn-based, including all out-of-combat movement and interactions

10 word review: Rogue-like medieval fantasy romp versus agonising start-again deaths.

Body parts can bleed, or sustain injuries requiring medical assistance. Leaving them untended will wreck your ‘pain’ statistic and possibly have long-term repercussions, for example dying and re-loading.

You will like this if you enjoy: Rogue-like games where permadeath is an option. Identikit fantasy medieval-looking environments, weapons, and skill-sets. Re-loading after losing a considerable amount of progress, over and over again. Survival games where you have to manage hunger, thirst, bleeding, broken limbs, pain, intoxication, sanity, all while doing your best to level up high enough to even consider attempting the first quest.

Selecting a skill with a ranged effect draws a functional, if rather clunky looking, box to show the enemies you can hit with it

The good news: Stoneshard is currently in beta (or ‘early access’ to use Steam terminology) so a lot of the issues might possibly be dealt with when (if) it comes out of early access. Right now, it often feels unbalanced and unfair, although the heightened challenge is also a big positive for players looking for this type of die-restart-die-restart game. Getting to the actual ‘good’ part of the good news section, the game does look quite nice, the interface is generic but almost instantly intuitive, weapon choice and skill customisation let you play pretty much any type of generic medieval fantasy class you want to play. Combat doesn’t feel unfair all the time, just when you, for example, get ganked by a virtually unkillable bear after a good run of kills and pelt-collecting.

Here, I am tactically waiting at a safe distance while the totally overpowered bear kills those two ruffians

The bad news: Due to its ‘early access’ status, the game isn’t complete. The option to create your own character isn’t available yet, although the menu option is there so it’s definitely a feature they’re likely to be adding at some point. The game can only be saved at the pub in the starter town, and at various locations out in the wilderness after you discover the locations by heading towards ‘points of interest’ on the map. I didn’t find this as bad as I thought it was going to be, and once you unlock a few of the camps (extra save locations), the fear of wandering far from town is significantly reduced.

Enchanting items is random. Buy an enchant scroll, use it on an item, receive a random enchantment that should, just about, match the item you’re putting it on. Fingers crossed, and I got a fairly decent upgrade on this axe

Permanent turn-based movement adds a veneer of tedium to out-of-combat wandering. You can’t just hold down the left mouse button and have your character follow the cursor around, you have to keep clicking to make the character move. Also, every other character only moves when you move, so it does look a bit weird in town at times.

Animal pelts sell for a decent amount, but they take up a lot of inventory space. The wolf pet takes up six slots, but the moose pelt takes up even more

The inventory fills up very fast, some items take up a massive 3×3 grid of slots, and nothing stacks. Some food and medicine sort of stacks, for example you can get cooked meat with more than one use, so it’s a bit like having it stack but not really. One final bit of bad news, there aren’t multiple character/save slots, so if you want to try a different character you’re going to have to lose your current one. Hopefully that will be sorted out during the early access period.

Arcadelife verdict: Taking into consideration the early access status of the game, and a few moderately frustrating features, I do like Stoneshard and I keep going back to it because I’ve figured out a couple of ways to make money, how to avoid or escape from most certain-death encounters, and I like games with constant incentives to level up and dump points into cool-sounding skills. One thing about the skills – you learn basic skill unlocks and skill trees by buying (possibly finding, although I haven’t yet) skill books and reading them. This isn’t a minor skill-boost type of book, like in Skyrim for example, this is where you can have a sword-and-shield dude buy a magic book, read it, and get a specific school of magic added to their skill-tree choices. That’s pretty cool.

Don’t have natural bow skills on your character? Buy a book and learn!

Overall, playing the ass-hat’s advocate card, I could say there’s absolutely nothing in Stoneshard that we haven’t seen before in one or more fantasy-themed role-playing games. Does Stoneshard present these tropes in a stunningly new and exciting way? Nope, it doesn’t. Does it feel old and tired? No, not really. In fact, it feels like it could end up being a compulsive little time-sink if they polish it a bit, maybe let some items stack in the inventory (or give us more inventory pages to unlock), and turn off turn-based out-of-combat movement and actions.

Lots and lots of skill trees. This is the axe skill tree, see the list of others on the left…that’s some character customisation right there. Note the grey ones – read books to unlock those, or don’t. It’s up to you.

As it is, Stoneshard is well worth picking up while it’s in early access, but don’t expect an easy time!

Arcadelife rating

Presentation – 7/10
Visuals – 7.5/10
Controls – 9/10
Content – 6/10
Fun – 6/10
Final rating – 7.5/10



This review was written on a dasKeyboard Model S Professional.
I also write novels – JW Tapper website